Q & A: The Event’s Blair Underwood and Zeljko Ivanek

NBC’s The Event returns tonight and from the look of the promo’s, get ready for some monumental … events.

I talked to two of the stars, Blair Underwood and Zeljko Ivanek, in a conference call where they discussed working together, being typecast and how they still don’t know what the ‘event’ really is.

The Event airs on Mondays at 10pm on FX

For the full interview, click the audio link above or download from iTunes

What appealed to you about the premise of the Event? And as actors, did all the secrecy surrounding the plotlines make it more difficult for you to create your characters?

Blair Underwood: What intrigued me was the world itself and the fact that it was envisioned to be and has become a hybrid of certain genres. And many people have alluded to it being like Lost meets 24; a political thriller/science fiction even.

So that was fascinating to me and to find out how to navigate through the blending of those two genres and beyond that, the character itself. I found him very fascinating in how he was initially drawn and even more so, there’s a lot of twists and turns but our characters are constantly evolving and evolving pretty rapidly right now.

Zeljko Ivanek: Yeah. I think I had a very similar reaction. You know, the stuff that I find really intriguing is always how do ordinary people behave in extraordinary circumstances. And, you know, that’s why we have a lot of cop shows and lawyer shows and medical shows is that you’re looking for situations that just always heighten the stakes.

And in terms of the secrecy – I still don’t know what the event is. I don’t know how many or if any of our cast members do. And in some sense, (mind) you I respect the process that the writers have and that there’s a story that’s still evolving here and you’re trying to figure out at what pace to tell it and in some sense, you know, I’m – I know as much as my character does in that moment and that’s kind of not a bad place to be.

Blair Underwood: Yeah. I feel the same way in terms of the secrecy and I just haven’t really pushed the issue and not asked too much because I kind of don’t want to know. I just want to take the ride as the character takes the ride.

I’m curious from an acting standpoint, when you don’t know a ton about what’s coming down the line, how do you handle?

Zeljko Ivanek: I don’t know. You know, it’s not something we kind of sat down just amongst the actors, amongst ourselves to sort out if we’re all having the same experience or different experiences.

I’ve been satisfied that I know as much as I need to know to play the scenes I’m playing. That whatever background information I’ve asked to get about something, whatever my character needs, knows up to that moment, they have been, you know, free with and have fully explained and brought me up to speed.

I kind of liken Blair alluding to his – well, kind of the excitement of the script arriving and going like oh my God. Let’s see what happens next. It’s actually exciting just to kind of read through and realize how much the ground just keeps shifting under all these characters as the plot evolves.

I went through a similar situation a little beyond Damages where I was given a kind of overview early on about a sort of general ark of the story but it was pretty generalized and vague and, you know, and again the sense was just to tell me enough so that I know kind of, you know, as the character, where I am in a particular moment and be able to play that.

So as long as I feel up to speed enough to play the scene that I’m actually having to play next, I’m fine with that and, you know, the rest is for other people to worry about.

Blair Underwood: Yeah. I feel the same way. Once in a blue moon, something will come up and you just feel as though, you know, you need more information in order to play the scene accurately.

But, you know, accurately is you know – it’s – it changes. I mean what’s important in that moment could possibly change and, you know, Zeljko and I both worked in serial television, serious television for a while and we know that it’s a whole animal unto itself and it can shift according to what the audience wants to see or the producers change their mind.

I know what I need to know at that time and if I need some more information, then you know, you ask the producer and the writers what do you think and because they’re usually three, four, five steps ahead of you.

Zeljko, you mentioned earlier that people assume that you always play the bad guy. Are you afraid of being typecast as always being?

Zeljko Ivanek: You know, I find it a good thing to keep working. So the typecasting doesn’t necessarily bother me as much as you might think.

You know, I don’t know whether I just look sinister in a suit or if people are prone to see you in certain character and certain series and kind of respond to that and that’s kind of what you get.

Known for – I’m not sure where all that comes from but it’s interesting stuff to play. It’s fun to play. It’s fun to play characters who can be one thing on the surface and kind of another thing down below and there’s a lot of kind of variety and juice in all of that. So I don’t feel, you know, straight jacketed by it.

Yes. It would be nice to get a laugh once in a while and a little change of pace once in a while and luckily that still happens. But as long as the characters themselves are interesting, I’m just happy that they keep asking me to do it and that I get the chance to work and stay in the business and grow and work with people.

I just love being part of something. I love being part of a series. I love being part of a working environment and a working family. So anything that makes it possible to keep doing that I’m perfectly happy with.

What have you found as being the biggest challenge for you to bring your character to life?

Zeljko Ivanek: What comes to mind to me is, you know, there’s what I always liked from the beginning of the show was just how strong these characters were and how many kind of different worlds you were following and, at the same time, there’s this overwhelming story ark going on and sometimes it is, you know, you feel you are everyone’s needed to push the plot along and then you, you know, want to raise your hand.

It’s like yes. But what’s going on inside of me at this moment and you don’t always kind of get to, you know, play that out fully.

Luckily there’s plenty of moments and plenty of scenes where the reverberations among the characters and how they are each individually kind of struggling with these things are played out. But there’s also a good deal of time where we just, you know, are looking after this jug not of a story that’s – that everybody is dealing with as best they can and sometimes that just has to take precedence.

Blair Underwood: I tell you one of the bigger, I’d say not even a challenge really – it’s a concern or a thought process is – and it seems like a very simple thing but it’s to not get caught into the trap of being presidential in playing this particular character.

And it can be a trap. When you start to play for results and just make him as human as possible. It’s a subtle nuance and it’s all in how you approach it but it can be a trap I think for an actor.

The same way an actor tries to be intelligent or smart or, you know, it’s all playing for results and not doing that because it’s such – everybody has their idea and notion in their own heads and minds what a president should be.

With you guys not knowing what’s going to happen pretty much week to week in the script, has anything that your character done completely surprised you kind of to the point where you’re like had to kind of rethink the character.

Blair Underwood: Yeah. Every week. (laughing)

Zeljko Ivanek: Yeah. I mean I, you know, lose a moment at the end of this double episode that’s coming up where it’s a real kind of action adventure episode at least for my character on the one hand. A real kind of change of pace completely. But ends with a real kind of moment of having to kind of reassess his view of this whole situation and his view of the aliens and it just comes out of the events that happen that lead him to that.

And, you know, it suddenly put him in a place that, like I was saying before, you never kind of expect him to be in and gives him a shift in perspective. We’ll see if it lasts and how circumstances kind of affect it but I think there’s a real moment of clarity for Sterling that he didn’t see coming.

Zeljko-Ivanek1Zeljko, you were involved in theater before doing television. Can you somewhat tell us how was your transition from the stage to the screen?

Zeljko Ivanek: I don’t know if it’s a transition. They’re just very, very different worlds and there are things I love about both.

I mean what I always loved about theater is that that’s an experience that a company of actors, you know, just sinks itself into for weeks and you really get to work on the material and by the time you’re in front of an audience, you really own it. You know, it’s really in your bones and then the shared experience with an audience is kind of the crowning glory because you feel from beginning to end the group of actors and the audience kind of control those two hours and how that story gets told and it’s shared. And that’s what I always loved about theater and what I miss about the fact that I haven’t done it now in a few years.

And in television, you are of necessity working in bits and pieces and scenes and things are out of order and you never can have the same sense of how will this look when it’s all put together, what will the effect be.

And it’s difficult to have the same sense, you know, when you suddenly get a bunch of new pages on the night before that you own that material in the same way but you are part of this evolving story and, you know, an evolving character and that’s exciting that, you know, from week to week and episode to episode, you are building on something all the time and doing it with the writers and with the directors and are part of a kind of evolving creation and I love that as well.

You know, beyond that, they are both things I love doing but they’re very different animals. I don’t know that transition is from one to the other is kind of the right word so much as just they’re very different worlds and somewhat different skill sets.

1 Comment

  1. ScreenwritingforHollywood

    March 8, 2011 at 11:58 pm

    NO FAIR Lance! Arrrr. Interview envy here. 😉

    Blair Underwood and Zeljko Ivanek are great actors. Love this. The Event is my secret little Monday night TV addiction. It’s actually the only TV program I schedule in and I was so worried that it was never going to come back to us over the winter! Fweh, it’s back! I had to miss the first one for an acting class! The irony. The horrible irony. Oddly, I found an amazing old fellah to narrate my documentary, so all things are balanced and good in the world.

    Thanks for the awesome interview. You rule.

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